Review: The Sorrows of Young Werther at Theatre UBC

The Sorrows of Young Werther is a taut 80 minutes of theatre charting a young man's tempestuous journey from infatuation to destruction. Adapted from Goethe's 1774 novel by Fannina Waubert de Puiseau, who also directs, and starring local luminary Ryan Beil, the work presents a fascinating collision of contemporary style and classical language that brings fresh relevance to the more than 300-year-old work.

The story follows a young man, Werther, who falls in love with the beautiful Lotte. Though she is engaged, the temperamental artist cultivates a relationship with her. When he is inevitably pushed away, Werther wallows in despair and resorts to taking his own life.

Ryan Beil. Photo by Nancy Bernard

One of the great challenges in adapting a novel like Werther is how to bring the rich and complex inner lives of its characters to the stage. In a novel readers are privy to character's internal thoughts, but a play is limited to the words that are spoken.

Puiseau anticipates this and addresses it in a few ways. To begin with, she has structured her adaptation as a one-man show (although actress Melanie Reich does have a single, non-speaking scene as the object of Werther's affection). Unfettered by conversation with fellow actors, Werther is able to directly address the audience, making us privy to humourous observations and inner torments.

Puiseau also begins the play in an intriguing manner. Beil enters through the audience wearing contemporary, hipster-esque attire and bearing luggage. He arrives on stage and begins to situate himself in the bedroom that constitutes the set, addressing the audience as he settles in. Throughout these first 15 minutes of the show the auditorium house lights remain at full.

Categories: Musings